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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

16 September 2004

Iraqis, U.N. and Coalition Determined to Ensure Iraqi Elections

Powell speaks to al-Arabiya about topics concerning Arab world

Iraqi leaders, the United Nations and the coalition forces are united in their determination to see Iraq move forward with elections, according to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"[M]ost parts of the country are secure enough and stable enough that you could begin the registration of people and begin the election process. And our commanders will be working very hard to defeat these insurgents, so even in the difficult areas, such as in the Sunni triangle, they will also have an opportunity to vote," Powell told al-Arabiya television during a September 15 interview.

The secretary addressed a variety of topics relevant to the Arab world during his discussion with al-Arabiya's Lukman Ahmed.

When asked why the State Department's International Religious Freedom Report for 2004 offered strong criticism of Saudi Arabia despite the Saudi government's efforts to pursue a dialog with its Shi'a minority, Powell responded that the report was not intended to punish the Saudis or convey displeasure but simply "to state a fact" regarding the general status of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, as the report does for every other country in the world.

Powell said the United States appreciates the efforts the Saudis have made with respect to reform and tolerance and he hopes an open and friendly dialog with the Saudi leaders will encourage that government to move in a direction where Saudi Arabia would no longer be listed as a "country of particular concern."

Turning to the Lebanese parliament's recent decision, under Syrian pressure, to modify the constitution and extend the mandate of President Emile Lahoud, Powell reaffirmed the United States' concern with the Syrian government's interference in domestic Lebanese affairs.

He said U.N. Security Council resolution 1599 allowed the international community to go on the record telling the Lebanese people, "You deserve to have a change of government in accordance with your constitution and not have to amend your constitution because another country wishes you to amend your constitution."

He said he hopes the Syrians will listen to the concerns of the international community and the Lebanese people and begin to remove their forces from Lebanon.

Regarding developments in Sudan, Powell said that he had carefully studied the situation and concluded that it was time for the U.N. Security Council to become involved. "We are not trying to punish the Sudanese government," he said. "What we want of the Sudanese government is to respond, bring the Jingaweit under control, stop their activities, stop the gunship helicopters that are in the air destroying villages and to act as a responsible government."

In response to questions about the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Powell said the United States remains committed to the roadmap and added that he believes the Israelis remain committed as well. He said it is up to the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people to empower a prime minister with the ability to fulfill the Palestinians' obligations under the agreements.

Powell also offered his condolences to the family of al-Arabiya reporter Mazin Tumaizi, who was killed when a U.S. helicopter destroyed an American armored vehicle that had been disabled by an explosive device. Tumaizi was preparing to report on the disabling of the vehicle when the helicopter struck to eliminate the ammunition on board.

Following is the transcript of Powell's interview:

(begin transcript)

Office of the Spokesman
September 16, 2004


Secretary of State Colin L. Powell On Al Arabiya with Lukman Ahmed

September 15, 2004
Washington, D.C.

(3:20 p.m. EDT)

MR. AHMED: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for this opportunity, and we will start today with the religious freedom reports that you have just issued. After the report, the State Department said that Saudi Arabia is a great ally and cooperating with the United States of America on war and terrorists, getting that the Crown Prince Abdullah's Government in tolerance and working and there is a dialogue with the Shia there. Is it not enough for Saudi Arabia not to be mentioned in this report?

SECRETARY POWELL: Saudi Arabia is a great friend of the United States and has been for many years and we have nothing but the highest respect for the Crown Prince and the Government of Saudi Arabia. We have worked together in so many areas. We are very pleased at some of the efforts that the Saudi Arabian Government has been making with respect to reform and tolerance.

I have an obligation under American law to examine each country in the world with respect to religious freedom in those countries. And with respect to Saudi Arabia, we have been in discussion with them for some time and I was required under our law, based on the situation within the Kingdom, to at least designate them as a Country of Particular Concern.

This is not to punish them, or in any way to show displeasure but to state a fact, and hopefully, through an open dialogue with them, see if there are not ways to move in this direction where it would not be necessary for me to make such a determination or such a distinction against Saudi Arabia. But one should not see this as anything but two friends talking to one another about a problem of mutual concern.

Let me take this opportunity, if I may, to, again, on behalf of the United States Government, express my regrets, my deepest sympathy and my condolences to the Tumaizi family, your reporter, who lost his life tragically.

MR. AHMED: Thank you.

SECRETARY POWELL: He was a brave man. And so many of those journalists there put themselves in harm's way to bring the facts to people of the world and a number of them have lost their lives and I deeply regret any lives lost.

MR. AHMED: And we appreciate that, Mr. Secretary, and that will lead us to Iraq, and he was a fair journalist (inaudible), among other journalists. (Inaudible) are being really criticized in Iraq regarding the deportation of journalists over there. Do you think you will do more to ensure the journalists' safety in Iraq?

SECRETARY POWELL: We will do everything we can, but journalism in a war zone is a risky profession because to do the job properly a journalist has to go out where there is action, so he can and she can report on that action. Obviously, there was no intention of injuring anybody, much less a journalist. The military authorities were trying to deal with the problem of ammunition in the burning vehicle, to get rid of the ammunition, so it would not become available to insurgents or a danger to citizens. And nobody did this with any intention of harming innocent civilians, especially journalists.

And so, it's a dangerous profession. It's a noble profession. It's a needed profession and we'll do everything we can, but ultimately there is a serious element of danger associated with being a correspondent in a war zone.

MR. AHMED: And this also will leave us in Iraq about this tradition of violence and military war there in Iraq, in Fallujah and other areas. There is a Turkish concern over residence of Turkomen on Telafar. It seems like there is a deadlock for American troop in Iraq.

SECRETARY POWELL: I wouldn't call it a deadlock. I would say that the forces that want to go back to the past, those insurgents who don't want to see an election. They don't want to see the Iraqi people decide their own future. They want to go back to dictatorship. These forces are now doing everything they can to defeat the incoming government and to defeat the prospects of having free and fair elections at the end of the year, and the ones who are going to be defeated are the insurgents.

We expected that the intensity of their attack would increase during this period after the interim government took over and moved toward elections. And we're slowly restoring control in those areas where control is lost. Telafar, you mentioned, I have been in touch with the Turkish Government. I know the concerns they had there. That situation is under control. The citizens are moving back in. The Turkomen are moving back into a city that is now under the control of the government, not under the control of insurgents.

Places like Najaf and Kufa, we have got government control back and we are slowly starting to work in Samarra and the other cities in the Sunni triangle, where there is too strong an insurgent presence, will be taken back, taken back by coalition forces increasingly by the capable forces of the Iraqi Government.

MR. AHMED: And you mentioned the election in Iraq. It's fair enough to say a majority of Iraqis are waiting for that day to come of the election. The conditions we see there in Iraq, heavy casualties on the civilians because of the violence there -- I'm not talking about the American military action, obviously -- how do you think, I mean, that -- and it's increasing on a daily basis -- the election would be held? And do you think there are measures that will ensure the election will be held in that day and fair enough to bring a new government after all of this?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think we know how to hold a fair election, and most parts of the country are secure enough and stable enough that you could begin the registration of people and begin the election process. And our commanders will be working very hard to defeat these insurgents, so even in the difficult areas, such as in the Sunni triangle, they will also have an opportunity to vote.

But the coalition leaders, but more importantly, the Iraqi Interim Government, President Sheikh Ghazi and Prime Minister Allawi and their whole cabinet are determined to go forward. The national council, which is now in place, is determined to go forward. The UN is determined to go forward and have these elections. It is a necessary step toward putting in place a solid democracy in Iraq and allowing that democracy to thrive, building up armed forces. And that's how the coalition will be able to leave.

MR. AHMED: We are going to the other area. I just came from a Sudan area and this week you concluded that after the investigation, investigation on the Sudan, the situation there, the genocide that's occur and you called UN to investigate. Do you think the UN will reach the same conclusion?

And the other question about that, how do you think you could do toward those responsible of these atrocities, accountable?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we examined it very, very carefully. I did not do it just at the spur of the moment or in the heat of the moment. I felt it was important for us to make an objective examination, so we sent people in with outsiders to talk to the people of Darfur and we interviewed over 1,000 people and got the facts. And those facts made it clear to us that this was a deliberate policy on the part of the Jingaweit working with the government, and so that's why we called it genocide. And now we call on the UN to make a broader investigation.

The Genocide Convention really required us, as a state party, to bring it to the attention of the United Nations and that's what we have done. And we hope that the Security Council resolution that we are working on in New York will include in that resolution the paragraph that deals with a broader investigation by the United Nations.

We also have in that resolution the possibility of sanctions, measures to put more pressure on the Sudanese Government to do more with respect to security. We are not trying to punish the Sudanese Government. What we want of the Sudanese Government is to respond, bring the Jingaweit under control, stop their activities, stop the gunship helicopters that are in the air destroying villages and to act as a responsible government.

We are pleased that the Sudanese Government has allowed the flow of humanitarian aid to go in. It's much improved. They have allowed the AU monitors to go in with a protection force. And I hope more AU personnel will be able to go in. And the Sudanese Government is participating in the political discussions that are taking place with the rebels in Abuja, Nigeria.

So that's all positive. That's moving in the right direction. Now we need the Sudanese Government to move in the right direction with respect to stopping the violence and securing the countryside so people can go back to their homes.

MR. AHMED: But there are some --

SECRETARY POWELL: If I may just --


SECRETARY POWELL: There is such an advantage for the Sudanese Government to do this because, as you know, we concluded the discussions on the north-south problem, the Lake Naivasha talks. A few more issues have to be worked out to get the comprehensive agreement, but with that comprehensive agreement and with peace in Darfur and the people of Darfur going home, all sorts of marvelous opportunities are opened up for the international community to work with the Sudanese Government to help them with their economic difficulties, to welcome them back into the international community from years of ostracism.

So I hope that we all will work together to complete the north-south agreement, solve the Darfurian problem and help the Sudanese people -- all Sudanese people -- to a better future.

MR. AHMED: We go to another area in the Middle East, Syria and Lebanon, the influence of Syria on the Lebanese over the presidency, this time, especially, heavily divided the Lebanese. And how does the U.S. view this, especially after Resolution 1599?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, as you know, worked with France as a co-sponsor, and other nations, to get this resolution passed. We felt it was time for the international community to get on record and say to the world and say to the Lebanese people, "You deserve to have a change of government in accordance with your constitution and not have to amend your constitution because another country wishes you to amend your constitution."

And we also believe that the time is passed when the Syrians should review their policies with respect to Lebanon and begin to remove their forces, remove the Syrian army and let the Lebanese people be responsible for their own destiny. And I am pleased that the Security Council did pass this resolution and I hope the Syrians are studying this resolution and are listening to what the people of Lebanon are saying.

MR. AHMED: But that resolution seems to be very big, after it -- the Syrian troops still in Lebanon. The Lebanese Parliament with the help of Syrian influence. They amend their constitution and they granted President Lahud another three years (inaudible) and most majority of Lebanese are disappointed by that. We know that Syria has Secretary General for the UN when he come to the area this October, but nothing seems to be happening and they're disappointed in these people.

And while you are talking about democracy in the Middle East that influence that, and many people are believing that -- they believe you are not doing enough on Syria and Lebanon.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, it's a very complex issue and it's a case where you look at what you can do. And in this instance, what we thought the best thing for us to do was to put the international community on the record that this is not acceptable practice.

Now, we did not expect that the Syrians would read the resolution and the next day remove their army. But I think based on conversations that my diplomats have had with the Syrians, they understand that the international community is concerned about this and we did not find it to be a satisfactory or the right thing to do to insist that a constitution be modified just to keep a particular individual in place at the request of a foreign country.

And so the international community is on record and these things sometimes take time to work themselves out. I hope the Syrians are studying the resolution and understand that it is time for them to take another look at the policies they have been following for so many years with respect to Lebanon.

MR. AHMED: All right, I have a limited time and I am going to Israel-Palestine, to their Prime Minister Sharon, after the funeral for Tumaizi and after this he pulled -- or he pulled back from Gaza for settlement from West Bank. It's more likely he will stay there in the West Bank, and Muslim not too happy over there, really. It's a disappointment there about the sentiment in the Middle East there. What do you think of this?

SECRETARY POWELL: I haven't read his exact statement, but all the information I have, and I have met with Israeli officials in the past day or so, lead me to believe that the Prime Minister is still committed to the roadmap. That is what he said to the President of the United States. And President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon went out in April here and read their statements with the understanding that the disengagement from Gaza and the beginning of disengagement from West Bank settlements all was part of the roadmap process, no final status issues have been resolved except through ultimate negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

And so, the roadmap is intact. The Quartet will be meeting informally next week and we'll work at the UN to discuss where we are and our best information that Israel is still committed to its obligations under the roadmap. And they expect the Palestinians to meet their obligations under the roadmap.

MR. AHMED: Secretary Powell, it seems that you are not engaging enough with the Palestinians to help them to bring out with a credible partner. We have a Prime Minister right now there and he is fighting Mr. Arafat over many issues. The United States of America are not -- you do not mean that Prime Minister and he is just working on one without the help -- we remember the kind of help you provided to the other prime minister was here and Dahlan and other people, and he's like empty-handed right now.

What kind of effort the U.S. could give to the Palestinian Authority (inaudible)?

SECRETARY POWELL: We have worked with Prime Minister Abu Mazen before Prime Minister Abu Alaa and we are in touch with Prime Minister Abu Alaa. We are working with him. We are working with the Egyptians to help him.

But the fundamental problem is not what the United States can do, it's what the Palestinians are going to do...what the Palestinian Authority going to do? Mr. Abu Alaa needs authority and needs control of the security forces under him, and this has to come from Mr. Arafat and from the Palestinian legislature. And so it is hard for us to assist the Prime Minister until the Prime Minister is able to wrest some, get some authority from Mr. Arafat so he can perform.

The President of the United States, President Bush, went to Aqaba last summer and he stood there with Prime Minister Abu Mazen, plus Prime Minister Sharon, brought them together, recommitted themselves to the roadmap, and said: Fine, we're now moving. Prime Minister I asked for this in my 24 June 2002 speech that we needed a responsible prime minister to engage with so the Israelis can engage with somebody.

But I'm afraid that Mr. Arafat never gave Abu Mazen the authority he needed to operate and therefore we couldn't get it started. I'm afraid the same situation exists with Prime Minister Abu Alaa, who we know every few weeks offers his resignation saying I can't do what I need to do unless I get this authority.

And the United States can't make that happen. This has to be a decision, a judgment made by the Palestinian Authority, by the Palestinian people, to empower a prime minister who can be a responsible partner for security in Gaza, for negotiations with the Israelis.

We still have a golden opportunity before us. For the first time, this Prime Minister, Prime Minister Sharon, has said he is eliminating settlements in occupied territories beginning in Gaza and four more in the West Bank to get started. That's not the end of it. That's the beginning of it. And I hope that the Palestinians recognize that this is an opportunity that should not be lost.

MR. AHMED: Thank you so much, Secretary Powell.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you. It was my pleasure.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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